Pubs in Ireland may remain closed for the rest of the year as politicians warn that it will not be safe to reopen them until a COVID-19 vaccine has been found.
Minister for Health Simon Harris said that he could not see how pubs could reopen if the Coronavirus was still present in Ireland and there was no vaccine or effective treatment against the virus.
Harris said that some restrictions could be eased but that some places where social distancing can't be safely observed would remain closed.
"What's not going to come back quickly are scenarios in which we can't safely socially distance," Harris said at the weekend.
"So I can't see how people can be in packed pubs again as long as this virus is still with us and we don't have a vaccine or an effective treatment."
The Licensed Vintners Association (LVA), which represents Dublin pubs, said that pubs not reopening until 2021 would be a "nightmare scenario."
The LVA said in a statement that a number of Irish pubs could be permanently closed if they can't reopen this year as many will struggle to stay afloat.
Donall O'Keeffe, the LVA Chief Executive, said that most pubs would be out of business for good if they can't reopen over the next eight months.
O'Keeffe said that the LVA will support any government decision to keep pubs closed if it is in the interest of public safety. However, he said that the government would have to introduce a support scheme for pubs around the country if they are not allowed to open their doors again this year.
"The LVA and its members will absolutely support whatever measures are deemed necessary in the interests of public health, as we have done from the beginning of this crisis, but if closing pubs until 2021 is going to be necessary, then it is essential that a pub specific support scheme is introduced.
"Otherwise, there won’t be a pub industry in this country by the time a vaccine is found."
Roughly 50,000 bar staff were laid off due to COVID-19 and O'Keeffe welcomed the strong government support for redundant workers. However, he said that the would have no jobs to return to if the Irish Government didn't support the pubs financially.
O'Keeffe said that the pub sector was "petrified" by Simon Harris' comments that pubs may not open again this year.